Mike Tyson filed suit in U.S. District Court in New York yesterday in an attempt to force a fight with new heavyweight world champion Hasim Rahman of Baltimore.
Also, Showtime, in its unprecedented, multimillion-dollar bidding war to set up a Rahman-Tyson fight, has trumped HBO's offer of $14 million with one of $16.25 million to the 28-year- old champion.
Rahman knocked out Lennox Lewis in the fifth round on April 21 in South Africa to win the International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Council crowns.
For nearly two weeks, Rahman's co-managers, Steve Nelson and Stan Hoffman, along with his promoter, Cedric Kushner, have been negotiating with HBO, which has exclusive contractual rights to Lewis, and Showtime, which has rights to Tyson. Rahman, with no ties to either network, is free to negotiate with both. The fight would be televised on pay-per-view on either network.
Tyson is the No. 1 contender to the WBC version of Rahman's crown. WBC rules call for a non-mandatory challenger who wins the title to make his first defense against the No. 1 contender. Rahman, a voluntary defense for Lewis, was handpicked by the ex-champion's trainer. HBO did not contract Rahman, who was a 20-1 underdog. Scott Miranda, a spokesman for Tyson, said the purpose of the lawsuit "is to make sure that the WBC conforms to their rules, which forbid a mandatory rematch."
In a prepared statement, Tyson said: "The action I took today was not something that I want to do, but needed to do. There are people trying to abuse the system to prevent me from an opportunity to fight the new heavyweight champion.
"Rahman vs. Tyson is the fight the public most wants to see. I hope this suit clears the path for us to meet very soon."
Neither the IBF nor the WBC have historically honored rematch clauses. WBC president Jose Sulaiman was leaving the country and could not be reached yesterday, but a spokeswoman at the sanctioning body's headquarters read from a statement Sulaiman prepared yesterday.
"In regards to the rematch [with Lewis], the WBC is not forcing the item, as Rahman is on a stage of voluntary defenses," Sulaiman said. "We will accept Rahman's decision in regard to his next defense. A rematch is not forbidden."
Hoffman and Nelson have been told by their attorneys not to comment on the negotiations with Showtime and HBO, but The Sun has learned that Showtime has raised the stakes from $14 million to $16.25 million.
Showtime is offering a purse of $13.15 million plus an upside to any pay-per-view sales for Rahman, a $3 million non-refundable signing bonus and an additional $100,000 to purchase cars.
Showtime also will offer indemnity for Kushner and Rahman, along with a five-fight deal worth between $6 million and $10 million if Rahman defeats Tyson. Showtime also is offering an out clause that would allow Rahman to fight Lewis if he defeats Tyson. If he loses to Tyson, the network has offered at least two more televised bouts.
USA Today reported yesterday that HBO's package is composed of a six-fight deal with escalating purses beginning at $5.5 million per fight and as high as $7 million.
"Both companies have ... made very handsome bids. I'm not going to do anything stupid," Kushner said. "No decision's being made. It sounds like Rock [Rahman] is saying we haven't made up our minds."
But a sticking point between the promotional teams of Lewis and Rahman is a rematch clause in the contract for their April 21 fight if Rahman won. Rahman has said he favors a fight with Tyson, but a source familiar with the negotiations said Pat English, an attorney for Main Events, which promotes Lewis, almost certainly will file a "very expensive lawsuit" against Kushner if Rahman chooses to fight Tyson.
"In negotiations for the [April 21] fight, Hasim Rahman chose to go for the bigger purse, and the rematch clause is part of the bigger purse," said Kathy Duva, CEO of Main Events. "We expect him to live up to his agreement, and I'm optimistic we can resolve it amicably. If he chooses to fight Tyson, we will not resolve it amicably."
Kushner said: "I refute Kathy Duva's claim: There was never an increase in the purse because a rematch was agreed to." Kushner said he would like to avoid going to court, but is prepared to do so for the sake of his fighter.
"I'm always mindful of legalities, not to the point of being a [wimp]. I'm taking Don King to the Supreme Court, so it's established that when I'm in the right, I'm not afraid to do the right thing. But I also have honor and integrity," said Kushner, referring to a $12 million lawsuit that charges King with attempting to "bribe and steal" Rahman in 1998.
"We are going to do the correct thing when the time comes. We're here to make sure that Rock has all the protection he needs."